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Passage: 2 Chronicles 33:1-20

2 Chronicles 33:1-20 – Manasseh

Summary

In 2 Kings, Manasseh is portrayed as Judah's worst king. In Chronicles we hear of a startling repentance during his exile in Babylon, followed by extensive reforms.

Analysis

The Chronicler's portrayal of Manasseh is one of the most interesting in the book. As with several other kings, the reign of Manasseh is divided into two periods. But here, the periods are reversed: Manasseh's sinful period precedes his pious period. This dramatic reversal is usually explained as the Chronicler's attempt to account for Manasseh's fifty-five-year reign (v. 1). Since long reigns are not a sign of blessing in Chronicles, however, it is preferable to see Manasseh's reign as a parade example of the Chronicler's theme of exile and restoration that serves to highlight the efficacy of prayer and repentance.

This is clearly illustrated in the concentric structure of the passage: Manasseh's surprising prayer of repentance--replete with the vocabulary of Solomon's paradigmatic prayer (2 Chronicles 7:14)--together with God's response occupy the heart of the passage (vv. 12-13). On either side we see the contrast between Manasseh's "exile" in Babylon (vv. 10-11) and his building programs (v. 14). Exile is a sign of judgment in Chronicles (for example, 1 Chronicles 5:25-26; 2 Chronicles 28:5; 36:14-18), and building programs signal God's blessing (11:5; 14:6-7; 17:12). One can hardly miss the anachronistic use of "Babylon" in verse 11; the Assyrians did not exile people to Babylon. This seems to be strong evidence of the paradigmatic nature of the Chronicler's report, a report designed to bring home the contemporary significance of Manasseh's story. The contrast in judgment and reward is matched and surrounded by a second set of contrasts that compare Manasseh's behavior prior to his repentance (vv. 2-9) and his subsequent religious reforms (vv. 15-17). Typical introductory and closing notices enclose the narrative as a whole (vv. 1; 18-20). Here it should be noted that from now on the Chronicler omits reference to the Queen mother. This has recently been explained as due to the Arabian origin of the mothers of Manasseh, Amon, and Josiah. The Chronicler is regularly opposed to foreign influence, whether of a political or religious nature.

Later tradition, curious about this marvelous prayer of repentance, has preserved what purports to be the "Prayer of Manasseh" in the Septuagint, as have the Dead Sea Scrolls of Qumran (4Q381), though they are different prayers.